“What could go wrong?” reads the tagline to this reboot/reimagining of the original National Lampoon’s Vacation. Meant as a clever take on the film’s plot, it also serves as an ironic commentary on the quality of the movie itself. Unsurprisingly, despite the generally talented cast, it turns out that on this road trip, a whole hell of a lot can go wrong and some franchises are best left alone.
There is a moment in Christmas Vacation (my favorite of the Vacation movies) that has always stuck out to me. At the end of the film, when the police invade the Griswald’s home after Clark’s boss Frank is kidnapped by his Cousin Eddie, everyone is told to freeze. As everyone raises their arms, Beverly D’Angelo puts her hand on Chevy Chase’s crotch. When the police bring in Frank’s wife she casually removes her hand to greet her and then puts it right back where it was saying “welcome to our home” all while never breaking her forward facing terrified stare. No attention is drawn to it, and if you’re not looking for it you’ll miss it, but the genius of its crudeness was in how subtle it was. This new Vacation film shows no such subtlety with its humor. It is unapologetically crude which not only misses the mark when comparing it to the Chevy Chase installments, it just makes for a really dumb fucking movie.
The biggest problem with Vacation is that it misses the mark as to what made the original films enjoyable. On the surface it thinks it gets it, a father trying to bring his family together, taking them reluctantly with him on his ill advised mission of good intentions, sounds like a Vacation plot. But that’s where the similarities end. Ed Helms plays Rusty Griswald (Clark’s son in the originals) and tries his hardest to do his best Chevy Chase impression. Which he is admittedly pretty good at, except that Rusty wouldn’t have turned into his dad, quite the opposite actually. If you’re going to reboot a franchise, at least stay true to the characters. Christina Applegate plays his bored wife, whose character arc is fine until they drag her into a subplot involving her sordid college past in order to briefly turn the movie into Animal House. Vomit jokes are still funny, right?
The film as a whole runs on the fumes of tired road trip movie cliches. Creepy truck driver? Check. Taken advantage of by locals? Yup. A stop over with relatives that ends in disaster? You betcha. Throw in some easy jokes about Thor’s hammer (that would be Chris Hemsworth’s penis, not the mythical Norse weapon), way more coincidental occurrences than you can suspend disbelief for, and a few callbacks to the original and you’ve got yourself a genuinely cringe worthy, seen it all before comedy. That’s not to say there weren’t moments I laughed, but they were few and far between.
Vacation misses the mark as both a comedy and as a reboot of the franchise. If I was thirteen and never heard a sex joke before, this would have been right up my alley. But the lack of nuance in the material doesn’t fly in the current age of the smart comedy. Hell, even Deadpool was more mature than this and that whole film was one long dick joke. If you’re in the mood for some Griswald action, just dust off one of the originals. Because as the famous catchphrase goes, “I’m Chevy Chase and Ed Helms is not.”